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As WEC season kicks off, so do Michelin’s 2016 improvements

FIA World Endurance Championship 6 Hours of Silverstone

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - APRIL 10: The Audi Sport Team Joest R18 e-tron quattro of Marcel Fassler, Andre Lotterer and Benoit Treluyer drives during practice for the FIA World Endurance Championship 6 Hours of Silverstone at Silverstone Circuit on April 10, 2015 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Ker Robertson/Getty Images)

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The FIA World Endurance Championship season begins this weekend at Silverstone for the 6 Hours of Silverstone, and that means everyone has improved over the winter to find and unlock even more performance this year.

One of the areas that will be fascinating to watch this year is where LMP1 pace is at for the manufacturers. The reduction in fuel flow and energy per lap is a 7.5 percent cut; the thinking being that the LMP1 pace, particularly at Le Mans last year, was getting to be too out of hand.

As such, teams will need to unlock performance in a new way.

For Michelin, which has a presence in three of the four WEC classes (LMP1, GTE-Pro and GTE-Am), they are tasked with making a tire that continues to perform better while also lasting longer over the course of the six-hour endurance races.

For Pascal Couasnon, Director of Michelin Motorsport, it’s that challenge that continues to drive Michelin in its quest for continual improvement. The company prides itself not just on racing to win, but racing to learn to enhance its street tire technology.

“The WEC is such a great series – it is totally aligned with what we want to do,” Couasnon told NBC Sports in an interview. “Again the challenge is finding what makes sense for the future.

“The test for us is to find more and more performance. Finding the limit, and how to manage the tire. There are very wide temperature windows and for the performance.

“We’ve been able to find high performance to offer a great show in WEC and Le Mans, both for the LMP classes and for the GTE classes.”

An inadvertent bonus for Michelin and an interesting element to watch this year is the tire competition within the GTE ranks, thanks to Aston Martin Racing’s late switch to Dunlop tires for 2016. That is something Couasnon looks forward to this year.

“We loved to work with Aston Martin, but that’s a good thing to have (another) good tire maker,” he explained.

“What’s great in WEC is that it’s open. In some classes, it doesn’t look that way. So that’s going to be a good fight.

“We are ready and delighted to have a fight against our friends from England.”

It’s a variation this year as the WEC GTE classes have tire competition while IMSA’s GT Le Mans class in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, which competes concurrently this weekend on the streets of Long Beach, currently don’t.

Couasnon said Michelin would welcome another tire manufacturer back in IMSA for the same reasoning as above.

“That’s correct. That’s the goal,” he admitted.

“What we want, the key thing for Michelin is to be challenged. There’s two ways to be challenged. One is competition. The other way to be challenged is to work with the promoter and make the rules tougher and tougher for yourself. You have to bring new technology.

“In ACO – for example – you change tires and refuel, but the immediate consequence and are looking for double, triple, quadruple stint tires. You’re aware that in IMSA … the consistency of performance changes a bit.

“Another tire manufacturer would be more than welcome. It would be good motivation to continue to improve.”

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